Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Iowa Bar program places law students with rural practitioners

NPR reported yesterday on an initiative which aims to connect young lawyers with solo practitioners and small firms in small-town Iowa.  With high-paying, big city jobs in short supply, small-town life and law practice is looking better to some law students and recent law grads.  Here's an excerpt from Sarah McCammon's story:
Plenty of young aspiring lawyers dream of landing a job at a high-powered, big-city firm after graduation.  So an internship in a sleepy, rural town might not sound like a dream summer job.  But that's just what three law schools in Iowa and Nebraska are encouraging their students to consider.   
With recent law school grads facing mountains of debt and one of the worst job markets in decades, practicing law in smaller towns is becoming more attractive for some young lawyers.  
One of the story's subheadings is "Hot Spot for Jobs, Not Social Activity," and the story features several small town lawyers who are close to retirement--lawyers who presumably have considerable "books of business"--but with no one to serve their clients when they retire.  This is a situation I've been hearing about anecdotally ever since I started writing about law and rural livelihoods, and McCammon's story confirms the dearth of small-town lawyers with examples from Garner (population 2,922) and Albia (population 3,766).  She also implicitly makes the point that most lawyers in these small towns are older; many are close to retirement.

While the focus of McCammon's story is the business end of things--getting law grads jobs and succession planning for small-town solo practitioners--she does note that many nonmetropolitan counties have only a couple of lawyers.  So this is not only a business story and a legal profession story, this is an access-to-justice story.  McCammon notes that the ABA has not kept records on the numbers of rural lawyers for more than a decade.  This is a great pity because it makes establishing the extent of the access-to-justice problem very difficult, although the Access to Justice Commission in California provided some documentation from that state in a 2010 report.  

The law schools participating in this placement program are the University of Iowa, Drake University in DesMoines Iowa, and Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.  The lawyer in Garner, Phil Garland, is on the Iowa State Bar Association Committee that initiated the program, which they hope will be expanded next year.

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